Driven To Tears
I wrote a longer version of this essay last year, but unfortunately it is still relevant.
After three years, I was finally going back to work! I felt confident as I entered the building for my second interview on Monday morning. During the call on Friday, the coordinator told me that the competition for the position was down to me and another candidate. The job sounded like a great opportunity. I would be able to help others improve their lives – that was the reason I had worked in social services for most of my life. I prayed as I sat down in the reception area.
The interview was going well. I felt like I had established a rapport with the three women who were asking the questions. My answers were good ones, establishing my commitment and interest in working with disadvantaged persons and handling stressful situations. In less than thirty minutes, it was almost over. The coordinator told me about the starting date, the pay and the benefits. “You will receive a mileage stipend for your gas expenses. Is that okay?” She smiled as she waited for my answer.
Mileage? I thought back to the job announcement posted on a local job website. Nowhere in the ad was there any mention of car ownership. It had said, “Must possess a valid California Driver’s License” and indicated that a clean DMV record was required. I had both of those. I smiled back and took a deep breath, “I don’t have a car.” Her smile faded. I mentioned that I had done other jobs without having a car, including being a test proctor for the US Census Bureau. She shook her head sadly. Even though it hadn’t been stated in the job announcement, a car was required to visit clients at their job sites.
“Why can’t I use public transportation to get to job sites? I’m sure that many of your clients use public transportation.” She thought about it for a second and said she would ask her director if she could hire me even though I didn’t have a car. I mentioned that due to the local pollution problems, employers should be encouraging their employees to use public transportation as much as possible. She nodded, but looked skeptical. The coordinator said she would check with the director and call me back later in the day after they had interviewed the other candidate. I tried to hold back the tears I felt forming. I knew it was over.
After the tears dried, I started to get mad. I wanted to stay in the social services field, working with the homeless and poor. Each day, I scoured the ads online. Almost all of them required access to reliable private transportation. In the three years since I had last worked, employers had told me that even though my qualifications were excellent, they couldn’t even interview a carless candidate. When I told some of my friends and acquaintances about what happened, some of them suggested that I should have lied and told them that my car was in the shop for repairs. But I couldn’t bring myself to give false information to a potential employer.
Now, instead of working with the poor and homeless, I am one of them. Instead of helping others overcome their barriers to employment, I am being bludgeoned by my own. But I refuse to go down without a fight. I am a victim of discrimination. How am I, a single woman with no family, supposed to maintain upkeep, insurance and fuel for a car while being unemployed for three years? And why should I, a single woman with few transportation needs, be forced to have a car? It is widely known the most of the pollution in the Sacramento area comes from automobiles, so why am I forced to become part of that problem? Sacramento has always been against affordable, reliable and practical public transportation. Sacramento non-profit agencies are echoing that resistance, eliminating agency cars that can be shared by employees and refusing to consider alternate transportation methods.
I don’t want a car! I would not mind sharing one on an as-needed basis, but I have no desire to have a car payment and insurance premium and spend each day checking the fluctuating gas prices like other people check the California Lottery. I have no desire to contribute to the dingy cloud that hangs over the Sacramento valley like the one that follows Pigpen in the cartoons. I can’t believe that in 2012, ownership of a car is a life-or-death requirement. I ponder my demise and attempt to restrain my rage as I check the RT schedule for the train that will take me to the Department of Human Assistance to apply for benefits.